Tragic Outcome From Young Girls’ E-Bicycle Accident
On Jan. 31, 2021, Molly Steinsapsir, age 12, and her friend and neighbor, Eme Green, age 11, were watching television together after Green spent the night at Steinsapsir’s home. The two girls were close friends who only lived a few houses apart from each other and were excited to be able to spend some time together after the lockdowns of the pandemic.
That morning, Eme’s mom texted Molly’s mother and told her that if the girls wanted to come to Eme’s house, they could try out Eme’s sister’s new e-bicycle. Her sister had received the e-bike as a bat mitzvah gift. The girls agreed and went to Eme’s home later in the morning to try out the bicycle.
Eme and Molly took the e-bike for a ride on Enchanted Way, which twisted and turned up a cliff above their neighborhood. At the top, people can see the entire area and take in views of the scenery. Eme was piloting the bicycle with Molly sitting on the companion seat behind her. On their descent, Eme lost control of the bike at the steepest point of the road, causing both girls to be thrown from the bicycle. Molly struck her head on the rocks during the crash, which caused her to lose consciousness immediately despite her helmet.
Upon receiving a phone call from Eme’s mother, Molly’s parents, John and Kaye Steinsapsir, rushed to the scene. They found multiple emergency response vehicles and paramedics tending to their daughter, but she remained unconscious. She was rushed to UCLA Medical Center. Doctors there discovered she had a small bleed between her skull and brain and prepared her for immediate surgery to stop the bleeding and relieve the pressure.
Initially, doctors were optimistic about Molly’s recovery and told Molly’s parents she would likely wake up after a week or two and then deal with persistent headaches and light sensitivity. However, five days later, the swelling in Molly’s brain significantly worsened. Despite an additional emergency surgery, Molly passed away.
Kaye and John Steinsapsir arranged for Molly’s organs to be donated. On Aug. 1, 2022, the couple filed a lawsuit against Rad Power Bikes, the manufacturer of the e-bicycle on which Molly and Eme had ridden.
Litigation Against Rad Power Bikes
John and Kaye Steinsapsir filed a lawsuit against Rad Power Bikes, alleging multiple causes of action. The causes of action included breach of warranty, strict product liability, design defects, manufacturing defects, marketing defects, and wrongful death. Separately, the couple filed a lawsuit against Eme’s parents, with whom they settled for $1.5 million.
In the suit against Eme’s parents, Rad Power Bikes filed a cross-complaint and argued any settlement payment awarded to the Steinsapsirs in that case should reduce the company’s liability in its case. However, the judge in the case against Eme’s parents dismissed the cross-complaint filed by Rad Power Bikes and approved the settlement.
Causes of Action in the Complaint
The Steinsapsirs argued that Rad Power Bikes was liable for multiple reasons. They argued that Molly’s death was preventable. According to the complaint, Rad Power Bikes implicitly marketed their e-bicycles to young riders who are not equipped to handle them. While Rad Power Bikes included a statement that people younger than 18 should not ride the bike that Molly was on when she died (the Radwaggon 2), the statement was included in small print on page 49 of a 57-page manual. Since the time the complaint was filed, the company changed its warning and now includes it prominently at the beginning of the manual instead of burying it in the lengthy document.
The Steinsapsirs pointed out that many of the riders of e-bikes are young teens and pre-teens who are not old enough to drive. They use e-bikes to get to school and visit their friends, and the fact that young riders are often the end users of the products is well-known in the industry. They argued that Rad Power Bikes and other direct-to-consumer e-bike manufacturers tacitly market the bicycles for use by minors by targeting their parents and advertising the bikes in a way that is particularly enticing to young people.
In addition to marketing and warning defects, the Steinsapsirs alleged multiple design flaws in the e-bicycles manufactured by Rad Power Bikes. The complaint alleged that the trail of the bike was too low for its weight and size. The trail is the horizontal distance between the point at which the steering axis intersects with the ground and the area where the bike’s front wheel contacts the ground. A short trail on a heavy bicycle makes it unstable at higher speeds.
They also argued that the bicycle was marketed with sub-par specifications, including the brakes and the quick-release axles. Instead of using mechanical drum brakes, the bike had disc brakes. The complaint alleged that disc brakes are insufficient for a larger, heavier e-bicycle, and the combination of disc brakes with quick-release axles can cause a sudden loss of control. In other cases, the quick-release axles have led to the front tire falling off the bike, although that isn’t what appeared to have happened in Molly’s case.
According to Molly’s parents, Rad Power Bikes chose to include disc brakes and quick-release axles as a cost-cutting measure. The design elements of the e-bike are cheaper than including drum brakes and a larger trail. However, the Steinsapsirs argued that the cost of including the cheaper components is a much higher risk of accidents and serious injuries, up to and including death. The Steinsapsirs stated that Rad Power Bikes both knew about these issues and failed to warn consumers about them or to do anything to correct them.
Since Rad Power Bikes sells its e-bikes directly to consumers, prospective buyers do not purchase them in bicycle shops. This means they don’t have a salesperson to ask questions about the components and the bicycle’s safety for young riders.
Finally, the Steinsapsirs argued that the girls would not have attempted to navigate Enchanted Way on a regular bicycle without the motor assistance provided by the e-bike motor. This is because the road was particularly steep and would have been too hard for the girls to ride up on a regular bicycle.
California law prohibits riders under age 16 from piloting Class 3 e-bikes that travel up to 28 miles per hour. However, there is no age restriction for Class 1 or 2 e-bikes. The bicycle on which Molly and Eme were riding was a Class 2 bicycle, meaning there wasn’t an age restriction that applied to them. Others have pointed out that Eme’s parents should not have allowed her to pilot the bicycle, and the Steinsapsirs should not have agreed to let Molly ride on it. However, the Steinsapsirs said that they had seen many young people riding on similar e-bikes and didn’t know how dangerous they were.
Many people who own e-bikes manufactured by Rad Power Bikes have complained about the disc brakes. Others have reported the disc brakes regularly fail and must be replaced frequently. Others have reported crashing when the quick-release axles caused the front tires to fall off, but the reports about brake failures and tires falling off and leading to bicycle crashes are largely anecdotal.
One issue could be the assembly. With direct-to-consumer e-bikes, the consumer assembles the bicycle by following the instructions instead of having them professionally assembled. This could lead to an introduction of errors that could result in accidents.
Industry experts argue that the real issue is a lack of regulations. They argue more needs to be done by legislators to address the potential dangers of e-bikes. While the European Union has rigorous quality and safety standards for e-bikes, the U.S. does not.
Most of the experts and attorneys who reviewed the Steinsapsirs’ complaint felt there were issues with the complaint itself. Whether the Steinsapsirs are ultimately successful in their lawsuit against Rad Power Bikes, some of the known issues involved with e-bikes should be addressed to prevent similar tragedies from occurring in the future.
Talk to an Experienced E-Bike Accident Attorney
If you or your loved one was seriously injured while using an e-bike as intended, you might have legal grounds to pursue a claim against the bicycle’s manufacturer and designer. Contact the law firm of Steven M. Sweat, Personal Injury Lawyers, APC today by calling us at 866-966-5240. We provide free case evaluations and can explain the legal options and remedies that might be available.